April 16 2014

Stories vs. Advertisements

It’s every business owner’s or PR professional’s dream that a giant publication writes a front page profile on their business, including everything from the story of its founding to its successful products. Now, take a minute and pretend that you’re not the business owner, thrilled to see your dream imagined, but that you’re one of the publication’s readers and you feel like you’re reading a 2,000 word advertisement.

It’s not quite as thrilling, is it?

Writers and editors are charged with the task of keeping their readers up on current events and this can include what’s going on with businesses in certain industries, but glowing business profiles are more of an exception than a rule. How certain businesses participate in bigger trends, events, and problem solving is much more realistic. At the end of the day, a writer’s job isn’t to provide free advertising to a business.

Elements of a story

We are all exposed to stories constantly. Some are short, like that Thai Life Insurance commercial about one man’s impact on the people he meets everyday that went viral last week. Some are much longer, like that copy of Anna Karenina you’ve had on your shelf for years. Almost all of these stories have familiar elements, including some kind of narrative structure. They are compelling because they are more than just facts and figures. They tell a story.

Treat your press release this way. Find what is compelling about your story and tell it well. Consider the arc the story can take and how a reader would respond. Will a certain detail evoke a strong emotional response? Look for opportunities to discard overly promotional language in exchange for context.

Shaping the story with context

As we’ve mentioned before, many reporters use press releases as reference points. Information they receive in a release could tie in to a story they’re already writing or introduce them to an expert they might contact for a future article. Context gives an extra layer to this resource for reporters.

A great example of this is the way that The Vida Project appears in this Tech Crunch feature about a housing crisis in San Francisco. The article is an in-depth look at the city’s housing situation with a focus on its history of negative responses to gentrification. Nestled in the story is a large section about new condo units being built in the Mission District, including a reference to another article in San Francisco Magazine about the development.

Why is this housing development featured? It has all kinds of context that is relevant to the story. The developer went to great lengths to get the notoriously difficult to please community on board and the project approved, setting a standard for future builds.

Of course, we have no way of knowing The Vida Project’s PR strategy, but we can read an article like this and see why this particular development appeared in this story. Remembering that a reporter’s job is to report and not to advertise is key to providing the kind of context that could make your brand relevant for any future stories.